The Heart and Science of Mindfulness
by Dr. Anita Chakravarti and Jeanne Corrigal
Have you ever driven somewhere… and then not remembered how you actually got there? Or taken a morning shower yet been so engrossed in what you have to do that day, that you never felt the water caressing your skin? Many of us go through our days on autopilot and are never aware of this present moment.
Take a moment now… feel the paper of the magazine in your hands, your feet on the ground, the light in the room. Pause, and just notice what is happening now.
Pressing the Pause button for even a moment is all we need to return to the pilot seat. We can then either enjoy a pleasant moment more deeply, or interrupt the stress cycle and help ourselves deal more effectively with the difficult moments of life.
Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. We can cultivate this kind of awareness formally with meditation, compassion, or movement practices, and informally in whatever we do throughout our day. With practice, mindfulness offers a way of being that fosters meaningful connection and sense of wellbeing—a relationship of kind awareness to our lives.
Mindfulness is rooted in many contemplative traditions from around the world. Over the last 30 years, rigourous scientific research has been documenting the tremendous health benefits of this practice. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has pioneered this research into mindfulness, beginning in 1979 when he developed a course for his patients at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The course, called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is now used in over 700 medical centres and many more organizations worldwide.
There are many applications of MBSR in education and healthcare and the scientific literature is exploding. A medical database search of the term mindfulness reveals the following trend:
- 1979–1988: 22 articles
- May 2013: 263,448 articles
The last decade has expanded the research into neuroplasticity. A landmark 2010 MBSR study administered MRIs to participants prior and just after completion of the 8-week course. The MRIs measured increased density in the pre-frontal cortex, and other areas of the brain related to a sense of wellbeing and empathy, and decreased density in the amygdala and other areas related to stress reactions. This study documented the ability of our brains to change and develop new neural pathways.
Participants in MBSR courses around the world have reported lasting benefits, including increased ability to cope with stress and chronic pain, decreased recurrence of anxiety and depression, better concentration and clarity, and strengthened immune system. Evidence also shows that mindfulness develops our innate human capacity for healing, and for happiness and joy.
In healthcare, mindfulness promotes wellbeing among healthcare providers and healing in patients, and many healthcare and educational institutions worldwide have incorporated mindfulness into the environment. Companies like Google are using mindfulness to support healthy workplaces. Mindfulness for children and youth is blossoming, with schools across North America and Europe developing curricula and documenting the health benefits for students.
In Saskatoon, mindfulness is a microcosm of this worldwide interest. For the last seven years, mindfulness classes have been offered at The Refinery.
Mindfulness sessions are now also being offered to students at the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry, and School of Physiotherapy by Dr. Anita Chakravarti, who is on the Healthy CampUS steering committee of the University of Saskatchewan. She has recently introduced mindfulness sessions for healthcare providers through the Saskatoon Health Region Healthy Workplace initiative and her mindfulness promotion work is supported by the Saskatchewan Medical Association Physician Health Program. There is also a mindfulness course for students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. One medical student wrote: “I found them [the sessions] to be incredibly effective. They remind me to constantly stay in the moment and avoid panicking about future events that I can’t control. While currently studying for finals, it’s helping a lot.”
New in Saskatoon is the full 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR), as developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. It has been offered twice for the public by Mindfulness Teacher Jeanne Corrigal and will be offered again Oct 31–Dec 12, 2013. One participant wrote: “This course has changed my life. I have new insight, peace of mind, and a newfound self compassion. It has given me my life back and I am so grateful. This work is so meaningful and so needed in our society!”
Jeanne Corrigal will also offer Mindfulness for Families, to begin in the fall of 2013. This class is designed to teach children and their family or care groups. Elementary school children in one of her classes recently listed these benefits: “If you get stressed you can use your mindfulness to calm down.” “You can keep your thoughts happy, and it is good when you can’t sleep.” “To help someone that is being bullied.”
The students also drew pictures of themselves, before and after one minute of mindfulness meditation:
At the heart of mindfulness, we find an innate stillness, which can be cultivated to become a powerful internal resource. The science of mindfulness is bringing us a neural understanding of the tremendous health benefits of this practice. The heart and science of mindfulness offer a gentle, user-friendly path to a steadiness in difficult times and a deeper appreciation of joy and happiness: a doorway into the richness of our lives.
Jeanne Corrigal has practised mindfulness for 15 years, and teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). She is a certified Life Skills Coach Trainer, Mindful Schools Trainer, and Insight Meditation teacher. You can contact her and find out more about the 2013 fall MBSR courses and the Mindfulness for Families course through facebook.com/MBSR Saskatoon or www.jeannecorrigal.com.
Dr. Anita Chakravarti has practised mindfulness and yoga for five years. She has been an anesthesiologist specializing in Pain Medicine for over 25 years and is now focusing her work on health promotion for professionals with mindfulness as the foundational component. If you are a professional and wish to contact her for MPower: Mindful Professional Practice Seminars and Workshops please contact her at email@example.com.